Claudio Abbado, Italian Conductor Who Bred Talent, Dies at 80

Tonight at 9 pm: WQXR Re-Broadcasts Abbado's Final Lucerne Program, Recorded in August 2013

Monday, January 20, 2014 - 07:31 AM

Claudio Abbado conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Claudio Abbado conducts the Vienna Philharmonic (Dieter Nagl/DG)

The Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, who led many of the world's top orchestras while serving as a mentor to countless young musicians, died on Monday in Bologna, Italy. He was 80 years old.

Attilia Giuliani, head of the Abbadiani Association, confirmed Abbado's death to the news agency AFP. The conductor had a long history of health problems, undergoing stomach cancer surgery in 2000 and cancelling several concerts this fall due to illness.

Abbado held some of the most powerful jobs in classical music, including posts in Berlin, Vienna and Milan, yet he was known for his reticent, low-key temperament, rarely giving interviews to foreign news media. He was far from the stereotype of tyrannical conductors.

Even so, the conductor had a rare aptitude for communicating with young people, and founded several pan-European training orchestras including the European Union Youth Orchestra in 1978, the Mahler Youth Orchestra in 1986 (which grew into the Mahler Chamber Orchestra), the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (2003) and Orchestra Mozart (2004).

Born in Milan in 1933, Abbado studied conducting, composition and piano at the Milan Conservatory. He made his debut at La Scala in his hometown in 1960 and returned as its music director from 1968 to 1986. There he polished up playing standards, extended the season and organized the pit orchestra into its own ensemble, the Orchestra della Scala. He pushed through a contemporary music agenda that would have daunted other conductors, giving premieres by Stockhausen, Nono and Ligeti.

Abbado went on to hold posts with the London Symphony Orchestra (principal conductor, from 1979 to 1988), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (principal guest conductor, 1982-1986) and the Vienna State Opera (music director, 1986-91).

In 1989, the players of the Berlin Philharmonic named him to succeed Herbert Von Karajan as music director, a move that surprised many in the orchestra world. While some blamed him for altering the "Berlin sound" with eclectic repertoire, he was also praised for bringing refinement to the orchestra. He stepped down in 2002.

During his career, Abbado was known for a range of repertoire, especially the works of Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. He was also admired for his Mozart operas, and recordings of The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro in the last decade were among his most acclaimed.

While Abbado was a convinced European and global citizen, his Italian fans – the so-called “Abbadiani” – were some of his most passionate, occasionally showering him with flowers as he left the stage. In August, Abbado was appointed to the Italian Senate as Senator for Life by Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano.

Abbado was married twice and his subsequent relationship with the Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova, produced a son, Misha. His other son, Daniele Abbado, is an opera and theater director. The AP reports that Abbado had requested 90,000 trees be planted in his name for the benefit of Milan residents as a living memorial.

Final Concerts

WQXR broadcast a number of Abbado's performances at the Lucerne Festival in recent years. That includes his August 23, 2013 performance of the Schubert "Unfinished" Symphony and Bruckner's Ninth Symphony with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (his final concert took place in Lucerne on Aug. 26, featuring the same program). Listen to the broadcast here:

Here is Abbado leading the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and soloists in the Mozart Requiem and Beethoven's Egmont in 2012:


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Comments [11]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

CLAUDIO ABBADO and just late yesterday, Monday, January 27th at age 94 PETE SEEGER. Two more humanitarian and people-concerned artists would be hard to find. Their like should be memorialized and the testimony should be their recorded, sound and video, music made permanently accessible. R.I.P. you two giants in your respective formats.

Jan. 28 2014 04:03 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

CLAUDIO ABBADO and BRUNO WALTER, both geniuses and warm-hearted individuals with humanistic concerns so rare in today's anger-driven policies are to be celebrated for what they accomplished and the many lives they touched and made masterworks of music touch the souls of those whom would listen. Icons like them should be role models and their recorded performances be made more available to the yet uninitiated. Sophistication of technology should render the comprehensive communication format of musical composition to all and sundry. Thanks FRED for your always full exposition of the latent and more obvious beauties of music, the arts and the culinary pleasures. R.I.P. MAESTRO CLAUDIO ABBADO !!!

Jan. 22 2014 09:55 AM

I attended a few of the Vienna Philharmonic/Abbado Beethoven cycle concerts given at Carnegie Hall in the 1980s. They were inspiring beyond belief. I was so transported elevated, energized and mesmerized that I walked out of Carnegie Hall and along 57th Street and was almost at Sixth Avenue before I realized I had not put on my coat...and it was in a very cold February/March! Rest in peace, Maestro Abbado and thank you for your incredible musicianship.

Jan. 21 2014 11:15 AM

Thank you so much for streaming the Lucerne concert. The reviews were extraordinary, and I'm looking forward to listening to it.

Jan. 21 2014 07:37 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Thanks Fred.

Jan. 21 2014 07:19 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Thanks Fred.

Jan. 21 2014 07:19 AM
Fred Plotkin from Marco Polo Airport, Venice

To Concetta Nardone: Abbado's family was a mix of Milanese and Piedmontese on his father's side and Sicilian on his mother's side. Watch for my tribute to Abbado, written last night in Italy not too far from where he died. It should be posted later today.

Jan. 21 2014 06:25 AM
Felix from Woodbridge, nj

RIP Maestro Abbado. We'll miss your legacy.

Jan. 20 2014 03:50 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

This is a very sad day. I'm very shocked and saddened. Only last week, my response to the question on this website about dream conductors and orchesta pairings --- among those living today --- was Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic. I knew nothing about the Maestro's illness. Among my memories of treasured performances, I have to mention the performance of the complete Incidental Music to "Egmont" with the Berlin Philharmonic and the performance of "Il Viaggio a Rheims" with the Vienna State Opera. Let us be grateful for having heard and seen his achievements and revelations and offer our prayers in our own words and in our own way.

Jan. 20 2014 09:56 AM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

May he rest in peace. His performance with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra of the Bruckner 9th Symphony was transcendent; it seems appropriate that this was his final concert. I listened to the broadcast as many times as I could when it was offered on the WQXR website, and now I can listen to it again in remembrance of this great conductor. Thank you WQXR, for making this performance available again.

Jan. 20 2014 09:54 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Sad day. Great musician. Do not know if this is a true story, but I remember hearing that during the Spanish Inquisition, his family found refuge in Palermo. When he semi-retired, he conducted a performance in Palermo as a thank you. If someone out there can verify, would appreciate hearing about this.

Jan. 20 2014 09:35 AM

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